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Ahmose in Worm
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"Yes, of course," she agrees. Armsmaster is already stepping out the conference door.

"I've paged Mr. O'Brien to come up and talk about the contract with you," she tells Ahmose. "He should be here in a few minutes. In the meantime, I can answer any additional questions you have."

She sees how overwhelmed Ahmose looks, and adopts a gentler tone.

"Or we can just wait in silence for a few minutes and give you time to think," she offers. "I know things have been happening pretty fast."

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On the one hand, yes, she is absolutely right! On the other hand, Ahmose isn't sure he'll be any calmer if he's left alone with his thoughts right now. ...wait, there actually is something he can maybe do about that. "Could I have something to eat? And maybe you could tell me about things I will definitely need to know, but that" - aren't terribly important, but that would be rude to ask for - "that I don't need to make any decisions about? Such as - what smaller problems do you have, short of the city-threatening monsters? What happened with the people who were fighting earlier?" (Oops, that is not a calming-down topic, but he can't unask it, can he.)

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"Certainly," she agrees. "I can ask Mr. O'Brien to bring something from the kitchen, since it's on his way."

She replaces her image with a picture of the evil magic users he fought earlier being restrained and loaded into a van.

"With your assistance, the Wards managed to capture the Undersiders with no casualties themselves. They're currently awaiting trial," she explains, before switching back to her normal avatar.

"As for things you will definitely need to know ..."

She has her avatar adopt a thinking expression for a moment.

"You should probably know a little bit about how the local countries are organized. How they select their leaders, how laws are made and enforced, and so on. Does that sound like the right kind of thing?"

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Oh! Oh. Good. That is good, isn't it?

"Yes, please. That sounds useful."

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She shows a map of North America, with Brockton Bay highlighted.

"This region up North is Canada, the country where I live. This region below it is the United States. Canada and the U.S. are long-time allies — we actually share the PRT, the organization that handles magic users for our governments. I'll focus on the U.S. for now, because that's where you are."

She draws state (and province) lines on the map.

"The U.S. is made up of many states. It originally started as an alliance of states — hence the name — but the federal government has slowly gained power over time. Laws vary from state to state, but people are permitted to travel freely between states, and contracts made in one state are still enforceable in other states. Each state has its own police force and government, but the whole U.S. shares a military, and various other central services."

"Each state, and the U.S. as a whole, use a form of government called a representative democracy. This means that every once in a while — usually every two, four, or six years, depending on the exact part of the government — every adult in the country is given the opportunity to say who they want as their representative in government. Whichever representative from a given district gets the most support wins."

"The different parts of government are the Congress, the executive branch, and the judiciary. Congress is in charge of making the laws, and everyone can select representatives for it. The executive branch is headed by the President, who people choose, but the President is in charge of appointing the other members of the branch. The executive branch is in charge of enforcing the laws. The judiciary is not chosen by the people — to prevent the appearance of being swayed by anything other than the law. Instead, they are appointed by the President, but the Congress must agree with the appointment. Judges are in charge of arbitrating disputes about what the law, or a contract, says."

She pauses and smiles at him.

"Does that make sense so far? Canada does it a little differently, so I fully recognize that the U.S. has a strange-looking system from the outside."

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This is unsurprisingly very complex! Governance is very hard even if everything goes well and everyone is competent and well-meaning. The wisest people in Sothis are in charge of making laws, they have Abadar to keep them scrupulously honest, and they are still - very very far from perfect.

"I have so many questions but - I know people spend years studying how to govern, I should just - ask about the simplest things that everyone needs to know. The things I might encounter."

Like the police, people who go catch thieves and other criminals on behalf of society-at-general, which is such a brilliant Lawful innovation! It seems obvious that everyone would want to pay into an insurance fund to run it; Ahmose isn't sure why they don't have it in Sothis.

"How do people learn what the law says so they can follow it? Who is trusted to explain the law and to say if something would be legal and what a contract means, other than judges? Or do people pay judges to consult them? What are the most common crimes - or, well, the ones I might need to know about, not tax fraud - what are common punishments, how much crime is there really? What are - the general principles that apply to all laws, like that meaning to do harm is worse than accidentally doing harm?" Ahmose can go on in this vein for a while but valiantly tries to remember to let Dragon answer.

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"Those are all great questions! Let me see ..."

She taps her finger on her chin.

"Most people learn what laws exist just by growing up, and learning over time. But there are study guides for people moving to the country for the first time, and dedicated schools for people who want to study the law as a profession. People who do that are called 'lawyers' — I previously translated that as 'law-worker'. There is an organization called the 'bar' that is in charge of certifying whether someone can be a lawyer. They give a law license to anyone who passes a difficult examination to prove they know the law well, and then that license will be revoked if the lawyer breaks the bar's standards. So a lawyer with a law license can be trusted to do certain things that the bar monitors."

"For example, lawyers are not allowed to tell you anything you say in confidence to them to anyone else — except in some very narrow cases, such as a child being in imminent danger. So if you were concerned that something you did might have been illegal, you can ask a lawyer. And they would be able to give you advice, but not share any evidence about what you did with anyone else. If they did, the bar would revoke their license and they wouldn't be allowed to be a lawyer any more."

"Some of these rules only apply if you're paying the lawyer, or they agree to be your lawyer. The PRT's lawyer, Mr. O'Brien, isn't allowed to misrepresent what the law is, but he is allowed to share anything you say during contract negotiations with the rest of the PRT, because the PRT is paying him, not you. Usually, you would work through the first draft of the contract with him, and then he would give you a copy. You would take that copy and pay your own lawyer to examine it and make sure it is in your interests. If you want to wait and hire your own lawyer before talking to Mr. O'Brien, that's fine too. But I expect you to have so many general things to work out that it's worth talking to Mr. O'Brien on your own, just to hammer down the general details of the agreement."

 

She pauses and has her avatar take a sip of water.

"As for your other questions — I'm not really sure to convey the level of crime. Crimes are committed every day, but most people don't expect to have a crime happen to them in any given year? Some of the most common crimes are muggings, and it's wise to be careful when walking alone in dangerous areas. It also varies a lot depending on where you are — some cities are safer than others, and the crimes committed in cities are fairly different than the ones committed in the countryside."

"As for general principles — there are a lot of them. When a judge makes a decision using a general principle, they write it up and it becomes part of the history of laws that future judges use to make decisions. Some of the most important to you are: Many things which are normally forbidden are permitted in the course of saving a life or preventing a greater harm. For example, it's normally illegal to punch people. But if you punch someone in order to prevent them from killing you or someone else, that's permitted. You might still need to prove to a judge that they were trying to kill someone, but if they were, punching them isn't a crime. Likewise, it's normally illegal to break into a building you don't own. But if you do it to pull someone out of a fire, that's allowed."

"Another general principle is, as you point out, intent. It is more serious to deliberately plan to do harm than to do it unplanned, which is in turn more serious than doing it because you were out of your right mind or by accident. Accidentally breaking the law is still a crime, but the punishment might be lighter if you can prove that you didn't mean to."

 

"The last point which I think is likely to be important to you is that we have an adversarial justice system — when a crime is committed, the judge doesn't do the investigation and then hand down a ruling. Instead, both sides are given a chance to find evidence and question witnesses. Then they publicly present their evidence to a judge, and make an argument for why the accused is or is not guilty. The judge rules on what the law says and how it applies to the situation. For small crimes, they hand down the judgement directly. For large crimes, a panel of members of the public decide which argument is more correct. You are technically allowed to make your own argument, but everyone has the right to have a lawyer help assemble and present their argument. If someone can't pay, the government pays for a lawyer for them," Dragon explains.

"The purpose of doing it like that is to prevent judges from having too much power to decide things unilaterally. By having both sides represented by a skilled professional, it is more likely that we'll be able to figure out the truth. By doing the whole process in public, it becomes harder to conceal bias or corruption. By involving regular people in deciding the largest matters, there's an opportunity for common sense to deal with complicated cases instead of rigidly applying laws to a situation that might not have been considered. It's not a perfect system, but it does result in better outcomes than many other systems."

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That sounds so nice and Lawful! Contracts and licenses and professional obligations. They don't have a god to decleric Law-breakers but they coordinate to do it themselves!! Ahmose is ashamed of himself for assuming they must be less advanced than Osirion, in some ways, just because they don't have Abadar.

Just look at their technological achievements! A wiser person than Ahmose would have taken one look at their huge towers, built without magic out of stone and steel, and immediately deduced they must have lawyers.

To consult a lawyer he'll need to pay them, by getting a bank loan against his expected future salary from the PRT, but he's now much more confident that this place also has banks that make loans.

 

"I don't understand about - regular people deciding whose argument is more correct in court. If you have trained lawyers and judges, who are also judged by their peers, what's better than that - I think it might not have translated correctly, who are these 'regular' people?"

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"I should make sure to emphasize that not all cases go before a jury — a group of regular people. Most cases are decided by a judge. Jury trials are reserved for the most complicated, serious, or sensitive crimes," Dragon begins.

"But for those crimes, a jury really is just regular people. We don't use actual lots anymore, but we do the equivalent of drawing lots from the whole adult population, to select twelve people to serve on the jury. There are a few different justifications for doing this. The most important one, in my opinion, is to prevent there from being a ruling class separate from the average people. Judges are appointed to their position by the leader of the executive branch. In a large country, what do you think people's reaction would be if the distant leader — who only some of the people wanted in power — appointed a judge from the big city, where the best law-schools are, who ended up sentencing a popular local person to death?"

She shakes her head.

"In a system like that, people might loose respect for the law, or feel as though it wasn't really fair. So instead, twelve random members of the community are chosen. Normal, everyday people. The lawyers present the evidence on both sides, walking them through what they've been able to discover about what happened. The judge explains at each step what the law is, and why it is that way. And then the jury deliberates, and talks it over until they can come to a decision. It's not always perfect — there have been cases where the jury makes a decision which is, with the benefit of hindsight and what we learn later, clearly wrong — but it involves people directly in the justice that applies to them."

"It means that when you do something, you know you won't be judged for it by a distant figure you have little in common with — you'll be judged for it by the people you live near and interact with every day. This provides a very important property to the law: predictability. Earlier, I called this common sense. What it means is, if you encounter some weird corner case of the law where you don't know what the law is, or maybe no law has been written for that specific case, you can still make a good guess at how it would come out at trial, just by knowing how the people around you would react. And this isn't always perfect — you should probably consult a lawyer if you know you're going to be getting into a strange situation like that — but it's much better than forcing people to memorize all of the laws, having them be too afraid to act, or letting there be exceptions to the law."

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A short man in a suit knocks at the conference room door, and then pushes it open as Dragon finishes her explanation.

"Doing my job for me, are you?" he jokes. He smiles widely as he turns to face Ahmose. "Hello, I'm Daniel O'Brien. I work for the PRT contracts department."

He holds out a bundle wrapped in wax paper. "I brought you a hamburger from the cafeteria. I didn't know if you're lactose intolerant, so I left off the cheese. But there's some ketchup packets in there if you want."

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Food, what food, there is an argument here. Which makes no sense. Ahmose doesn't think he's more cunning (let alone wiser) than a whole alien civilization, but - there's a kind of makes-no-sense that leads him to assume he doesn't understand something about the situation. And there's another kind, where one sentence directly contradicts another and leads him to assume he doesn't understand the words.

Usually this happens when people play complex games of splendor where the meanings of words shift beyond what he can follow, but - surely that can't be the case for a basic explanation of how law works in a foreign country? Nobody is cruel enough to run a court system on splendour instead of cunning and wisdom.

He'd suspect Dragon of messing with him not explaining in the simplest, most direct way she can. But now O'Brien is here, and he's not allowed to misrepresent the law, so.

 

"You're worried that judges are sometimes wrong, or corrupt, or that the common people don't understand or trust their judgements. That makes sense. But if you let common people judge instead, isn't that even worse? Isn't the whole point of selecting, training, and monitoring judges to make them better than - random people who don't even have to fear losing their jobs if they make a wrong judgement? If the random people are better, why do you have judges at all?"

"If someone is popular in a city, random people from that city aren't going to convict him. That's what being popular means. Or even just rich and powerful, so people seek his favor. Or if someone is hated locally, or is an enemy of powerful people, he'll be convicted no matter what. A judge from the capital who answers only to the ruler can afford to be impartial and judge fairly. In Osirion, when powerful locals are suspected or accused, the capital sends an investigator and a judge, and this helps people trust the law. I don't understand how it could work the other way around."

"You get predictability when judges educated in the same school and held to the same standard judge everyone, not when every town chooses men by lot to judge every case to its local standards."

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Daniel blinks.

"Well, that's quite a topic to walk in on," he says, moving to sit on the other side of the table from Ahmose. "You were talking about ... jury trials?"

Dragon nods.

Daniel folds his hands in front of him and adopts an earnest expression. He is, in fact, fairly Splended. His voice is smooth and easy to listen to.

"I'm not sure what Dragon has told you so far," he begins. "But in my view, having only a jury would be worse. That would be no better than mob justice. The reason to prefer jury trials is because having both a Judge and a jury lets each one cover the faults in the other."

He purses his lips and looks thoughtful.

"Did Dragon explain to you that we have an adversarial justice system? The prosecution and the defense both work for their side? I think a lot of things in our government are like that. A man who is not opposed may do anything he likes, regardless of the truth. But when there are two equal opposing forces, it is truth that tips the balance in favor of one or the other. The jury makes the final determination of guilt or innocence, but it is the Judge who oversees the whole process. The Judge instructs the jury on the law, but they also prevent the prosecution and defense from making any unlawful arguments, and ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak. And if things are obviously not being done according to the law — such as the jury obviously hating the defendant — they can declare a mistrial, and stop the whole thing."

He smiles and shakes his head.

"I could go into a lot more detail on the process of jury trials, if you wanted, but it's unlikely to be relevant to you. The vast majority of crimes or civil cases are resolved well before they reach trial. It's quite common for the evidence to be so overwhelming that the guilty party agrees they have no possible way to win, and to avoid the whole thing in exchange for a lighter sentence. For contracts, things only get that far if mediation has failed, and even then they don't usually warrant a jury."

He sets a briefcase on the table, and opens it to reveal assorted papers. He takes out a notebook and pen, and lays it on the table in front of him.

"Anyway, it's certainly true that jury trials are not the only approach. Other countries have other systems. You could argue that the fact that the United States uses jury trials is a historical accident dating back to early Viking influences on English common law. But it's what we have, and it works well enough that there have been no serious attempts to change it for a few hundred years."

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"It's good that there's a judge overseeing the jury, but I still don't understand how the jury helps anything. If the judge privately disagrees with the jury's verdict, but not in a way that legally lets him overturn it, is the judge actually wrong most of the time?"

"And - the vast majority of people... Admit their guilt, in exchange for lighter sentences? The vast majority of people who are accused are guilty? I don't understand, that can't be what you meant." Maybe the vast majority of accused people are either clearly guilty or clearly innocent but - that doesn't really sound much more plausible!

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Daniel pinches the bridge of his nose.

"There's two reasons for that," he explains. "One is that in the last several decades, we've become increasingly good at figuring out crimes. The proliferation of security cameras alone means that we often have actual pictures of people in the act of committing a crime. That's before you add things like fingerprinting and DNA evidence, which make committing a crime without leaving evidence of your identity behind much harder. People mostly don't plan crimes. Anyone who could successfully plan a crime could just as easily figure out a way to make more in expectation legally. So most crimes are committed by people who are some combination of desperate, stupid, or acting on impulse, none of which are conducive to not getting caught."

"The second reason is that our system is pretty heavily weighted in favor of finding people innocent. When the United States was founded, one of our founding ideals was that it is better for several guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be sentenced to death. That's why the standard for whether a jury can find someone guilty is 'beyond a reasonable doubt'. Meaning that someone is only found guilty if there's no way a reasonable person could doubt their guilt. But prosecutors know that, so they only bother bringing charges against people who they are reasonably confident they can get a conviction for. Bringing a case to trial is expensive. "

He leans back in his chair.

"It's different for civil cases — in those cases, it's not the government bringing the case, and the required standard of evidence is different. For contract law, the standard of evidence in most cases is 'more likely than not', which means a lot more cases end up actually going to trial, proportionally."

He gives Ahmose a considering look for a moment.

"Look, I'm not going to pretend that our system is perfect. There are always people advocating to change the justice system. Often in opposing directions. But what we have is better than the previous systems. Before the United States was independent, this area was a colony of Great Britain. About a hundred years before the U.S. declared independence, the justice system worked like this: if you saw someone committing a crime, you yelled at the top of your lungs, and then everyone within earshot would come and help you drag the criminal in front of a Judge. The Judge would listen to everyone's arguments, and then sentence the criminal — often without allowing them to speak in their defense, and often knowing that if they displeased the crowd they could be lynched as easily as the criminal could be."

"So when you are judging how effective and fair our justice system is, compare it to that. Life is immeasurably safer now than it was then. We have actual police, and actual courts, and a justice system that is accountable, and that makes all its decisions in public. You're wondering how safe our system is, and how you can trust it? Well, when we're done here, you can go to the public library down the street, and you can look up the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program. A public database that anyone can check, which details what crimes are most common, where they're committed, and what the eventual outcomes are. If you have questions about a case, you can go look up the transcript, and read exactly what was said during the trial."

"Anyone can do that," he emphasizes, spreading his hands as though to gesture at an invisible crowd. "If our justice system were consistently unfair in a way that people disapproved of, do you know how you'd be able to tell? Well, firstly the politicians who let it happen wouldn't be reelected. But if that didn't fix it for some reason? There would be parades in the street, and people demanding change. That has happened, many times, and it has resulted in a lot of changes and embellishments to our system over time."

"Do juries sometimes reach the wrong conclusion, or rule contrary to the law? Do judges or lawyers occasionally get bribed, despite all the precautions? Yes, of course. But when that happens, it's a scandal. People all over the country hear about it; it's big news."

"Our system isn't perfect, but it does work," he concludes, folding his hands again. "Mostly, people don't commit crimes. When they do, we mostly have very clear evidence of what happened. Even when we don't, a lot of crimes are unplanned and people genuinely regret them. When they don't, mostly the jury isn't biased one way or the other. When they are, usually the judge can declare a mistrial. When they can't, in the tiny fraction of cases where it comes to that? At least what the jury decides is public, and they can't hide that they subverted the law. It becomes a topic of public discussion, and the people can decide whether it was warranted, or whether we need to add another nuance to the justice system to do even better next time."

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Dragon presses her lips together. Now is not the time to bring up the Canary trial.

"Maybe," she says instead, "you could tell us how you would expect justice to work in your world, Ahmose? That might help point out anything we're taking for granted in our explanations, which might help explain more clearly."

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Something clicks for Ahmose. "We don't have police. So - that probably explains a lot of the difference. Where I'm from, criminal suits often fail and that's probably because the accusers aren't professionals and aren't impartial and may be willing to accuse someone even with a low chance of winning the case. I don't know how many criminal defendants in Osirion are found guilty, but not almost all of them." 

"So - your police are like... a first stage of judgement, really, because they don't persecute the cases where they're not reasonably sure of winning? And then the judges act as a final check on them, but they're less necessary than in Osirion where there are only the judges. And the jury is another check on the judges, I guess, but I still don't understand how that helps, I'm sorry."

"In contract suits, there's no police, so the judge is really important. And there's also no jury, because - it's important for the judge to get it right? - I'm sorry, I don't understand that part. In Osirion many people think almost everything can and should be solved with private contracts and insurance and so on, and so contracts are as important and as - strong - as laws. I've heard other countries think laws are more important than countries, though."

 

"How justice works in Osirion is - someone accuses someone else, and brings them before a judge. Or an agreed-on mediator, for contracts. The judge hears both sides and makes a ruling. If there's evidence or witnesses, one of the sides needs to bring it up, and the judge can call in people to testify if he thinks it's important."

"Everyone has the right to testify they're innocent under a truth spell, and that's very very strong evidence because only powerful mages can beat the spell. If they are in fact innocent, the accuser has to pay for the spell, and there's insurance and some state funds and charities and so on, that pay for the truth spells and for other legal help. Or I guess your friends help you, a lot of the time."

"If one of the sides thinks the judge is wrong about a question of law they can pay to consult more senior judges, which probably requires traveling to some city if you're not in one already. And then if they turn out to be right, the state repays them and probably also rewards them, and censures the original judge."

"So - probably most of the difference is that we have truth spells, and you have police - not that they replace each other, both would be best - and also you have juries, which I don't understand."

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"Truth spells would certainly help a lot," Dragon agrees. "Although then you do have to trust the people with truth spells that they aren't faking it, which seems like it would be hard."

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"I should also point out that you can have jury trials in contracts cases, they're just less common. Usually, contracts disputes that make it past mediation hinge more on technicalities and precise wording than on questions of fact, and the expense of getting a jury together is not worth it compared to just getting a ruling from the Judge. But that's just a tendency, not a rule," Mr. O'Brien points out.

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"...I think I'm not going to understand juries and will just - ignore them for now, and I guess try to come back to this in a few days." Once he does understand anything else at all at all about this new culture and its laws.

"So now we need to work out my contract. A contract proposal, which I won't immediately decide about." That's frankly less because he thinks he'll know better in a day, and more to prevent him from feeling pressured and anxious and agonizing over trivia. "And anything else I don't know about because I'm a foreigner, I guess."

He'll repeat the gist of what they were discussing before Armsmaster left. He'll provide transport, including to and during Endbringer battles, and possibly also to other emergencies. In general he's willing to sell portals-as-transport whenever he's free, so it's mostly a matter of scheduling and possibly paying him in advance to prioritize their requests. In return Armsmaster (and maybe Dragon or other people?) will help him contact his world, and provide some advice or help he needs as a foreigner like the translation artifact they already gave him, details to be determined.

...Oh, and money. To pay for all the normal things he'll need to buy, like food and lodgings.

And it should be binding for only a month or so, with a view to renegotiating then, because they expect to learn more by then and the situation will change significantly if they succeed in contacting his world. Or any other world, really.

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"That won't look much like our standard employment contracts," Mr. O'Brien remarks. "But I can see why you'd want something different."

He takes careful notes.

"Okay -- I think I know what I want to draft up, but I have a few more clarifying questions, if that's alright."

He asks about a number of details, such as whether Ahmose intends to do business under any other names, whether food and lodging provided 'in kind' is an acceptable component of his reimbursement, whether he wants to be paid a retainer, per-portal, or per-hour, how much it would cost to buy exclusivity, et cetera, et cetera.

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Ahmose doesn't see a reason he'd use a different name even if he does do other business. He's willing not to do it for the next month, anyway.

Being paid in kind is probably fine; he's a bit curious why they'd want to do it when they're going to also pay him money anyway, but not strongly enough to spend time belaboring the point.

The pricing question is the most important one, and also the one he has no idea how to answer. At home he'd pay an Abadaran to figure it out for him, and also noone would propose something other than asking an Abadaran... noone from the government, anyway. This is another reason to ask for a month-long contract; even if he's underpaid by a lot (knowingly or otherwise), he should be able to figure it out by then and ask for more. A month sounds like about the right amount of time to mentally prepare to ask for more money.

 

If they don't have any preferences of their own, he'd probably like to be paid per-hour? It seems like the simplest and most legible. Paying per-portal probably creates weird incentives about going places in the fewest jumps. Except that if they want him to maintain standing portals to far-away cities, so he can get there quickly, they'll need to pay extra for that because it comes out of his power budget.

Exclusivity is impossible hard to price when he doesn't yet know what else he might be doing with his portals in his off time. If someone else offers him a lot more money per portal, he can live with delaying that by a month, but he at least wants to be able to go places for himself. Or, like, if he makes a portal to help someone who really needs it, not for money but because he wants to, that's kind of doing it for himself, but if "exclusivity" only forbids selling portals for money that sounds like a recipe for trouble...

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Being paid per-hour is fine. Here's what he would propose for rates — higher for Endbringer battles, because of the danger, but otherwise equivalent to a government contractor of thus-and-such a level. And of course if Armsmaster, Dragon, or anyone they bring in to help find his world need to study his portals in order to do that, that time should be uncompensated. ... Working more than this many hours in a month entitles him to these other benefits ... Cost of any tinkertech he requests held from his pay, exact prices depending on the tinker's availability and materials ... Then of course there's the need for a visa sponsorship — he can work for up to four weeks on a provisional visa, but then he'll need to file this form with the social security administration. The PRT can help with that, of course ...

Mr. O'Brien has been doing contract negotiation quite possibly as long as Ahmose has been alive, and can fairly easily lead things around with a bit more discussion to a solution that seems fair to Ahmose and that he'll be able to justify to the director without too much trouble.

"... and all of this only to last one month from signing by default, but if you end up liking this arrangement you can extend it by sending a letter to our office, or of course come in person for a renegotiation," Mr. O'Brien finishes. "I think that all seems pretty reasonable. Was there anything else you wanted to ask for, clarify, or discuss? Otherwise I can get this written up as a proper contract and give you a copy to look over with your own lawyer, or sign right away, as you like."

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Mr O'Brien is a very helpful professional! The 'visa' thing sounds important for him to understand, but if a month-long contract isn't going to affect it either way then he probably doesn't have to learn all about it right this moment. Ahmose doesn't have anything else he wants to ask about the contract.

He does kind of need to know how to find and/or choose his own lawyer? He's not sure if this a question he should be asking O'Brian or Dragon or neither, except he really has no-one else to ask, so.

"How can I find my own lawyer? Is there - somewhere they advertise in the city, or a local registry or something? And somewhere to sleep, I guess, until we sign this. And somewhere to get a small loan of money, or I guess sell a few portals quickly, if you know who'd pay for them?" Ahmose is willing to sell them a few portals at the proposed rate, if he can get enough money for a few hours' work to pay a couple of days' food and lodgings and to hire a lawyer. He has no idea how much anything costs in 'dollars' but presumably the pay rate of a not-the-most-junior government contractor is enough for a small family to live on.

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"Lawyers advertise in a variety of places, but probably the two easiest things for you to do are either take a recommendation from me, or to go to the public library and ask to look at a copy of the phonebook — it's a large yellow book that lists people available for hire by profession. It will list numbers that you can use to contact their office using a phone, and also their physical address so that you can go in person," Mr. O'Brien explains. "Different lawyers specialize in different things, so you might have to try a few before you find one who is willing to review the contract with you. Some of them may also be willing to be paid in a week or two, instead of in advance. You'd need to talk it over with them."

"As for my recommendation, I would suggest going to Peters, Willbright, and Edmonds. They're a law firm I've worked with before, and they're located just a few blocks away. I can write down their address for you," he continues, jotting an address on a scrap of notepaper and sliding it over.

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"As for a loan — you strike me as an honest young man, Ahmose, and I'm a very good judge of character. If you promise to pay me back in a month, I'm willing to personally lend you $1000, which should be enough to hire a lawyer and pay for room and board for a few days at least," Dragon offers.

Also, it will keep Ahmose from trying to sell his powers and running afoul of NEPEA-5 laws or, even worse, drawing attention from the city's gangs. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it's refreshing to be able to get on top of a dangerous parahuman situation before it gets messy.

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